Connected cars: The solution to road congestion?

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By 2050, the UN predicts that around 68% of the global population will live in urban areas. This will make positive traffic management even more critical to delivering efficient and effective inner-city transportation. One of the prerequisites for managing this increase is to be able to predict, evaluate and prevent road congestion. How do we do that? By becoming more connected and using insight from data to drive efficiency.

Connected cars are one of the fastest growing technologies in the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) sphere, sending and receiving real time information. They may be connected to other cars, to the driver’s information systems, to road safety systems or other control systems. By collecting data from connected vehicles, authorities can identify areas prone to traffic congestion and implement real time solutions. I can only begin to imagine the range of capabilities we can come to expect from connected vehicles in the coming decade.

Parking the problem

In the UK, more than 30% of inner-city traffic is caused by drivers searching for a parking spot – increasing vehicle emissions, wasting time and frustrating drivers. Connected vehicles have the capability to direct drivers towards available parking spaces, identify the cheapest price tariffs and in the future, make parking payments through the dashboard.

More importantly, connected digital parking and permitting services can be deployed to generate insightful big data that will help solve mobility challenges. Connected cars can deliver data, both overt and covert. Covert might be as simple as ‘adjust fuel mix in current foggy conditions’ whereas overt might be ‘please don’t drive down South Street – local fog means pollution is high’.

Local authorities will be able to combine large datasets – such as analysis of traffic flows – with real-time on-street parking demand. This can then enable the setting of demand-led parking tariffs and inform decisions around traffic management policies, the building of new parking facilities and the development of new resident parking schemes.

Sustainable Future

Another benefit of connected cars is the sheer amount of data that can be analysed, hopefully guiding a more sustainable future for us all. This IoT technology can collect all data from a journey to fine tune engines nationwide at their next service, reducing fuel use and pollution.

Technology identifies and analyses data to inform future sustainable decisions. For example, a new tarmac mix might reduce aggregate use, but it might also cause a marked increase in ABS use. The environment changes minute by minute, and there is no reason our car configuration cannot adapt too. Connected cars could – if used correctly, with small tweaks in real time – reduce congestion and pollution.

Data as the currency for connection

There are currently more than 3 million connected vehicles on UK roads, offering vast amounts of real time information. There are tangible benefits to be had from the insights generated from connected cars – sharing data will need to become the norm to take advantage of them.

Built-in car computers are no new phenomenon – cars have been generating data for years. However, the data is usually of a technical nature (mileage, fluid levels, engine status etc.) and is only stored locally. The amount and type of available car data is growing exponentially as cars become more connected.

With any IoT device, there is always the risk of data being intercepted. In 2020, 10.46 million more connected cars will be added to roadways worldwide. With more of these vehicles on the road, the potential risks of cyber-attacks increase. In 2015, Chrysler had to recall 1.4 million vehicles after two security researchers had been able to remotely control a Jeep over the internet, taking over the vehicle’s dashboard, steering, brakes, and transmission.

There are also other potential risks involved with connected cars. Tapping in a route to the airport? There is a fair chance your house will be empty overnight. Are you sat in your car talking or emailing about commercially sensitive matters? That information might be intercepted and published.

These risks can be mitigated through simple steps such as a human override function or device authentication systems to ensure that applications and sensitive data are installed or played only on trusted devices.

Balancing the benefits

Although work needs to be done to overcome the challenges surrounding connected vehicle technology, the opportunities of connected vehicle technology are immense. Connected cars can empower drivers with personalised digital information and have the capacity to improve the driving experience through features such as Wi-Fi connectivity, remote control of car functions such as ignition mechanism, and improved infotainment systems.

Equally, the IoT technology offers local authorities a range of strategic and environmental advantages, by providing the data which can influence planning decisions. Towns and cities can benefit from connected cars in a number of ways – reduced congestion levels, improved road safety, smarter parking and lower vehicle emissions to name just a few. Shared knowledge is power and the Big Data we can collect and analyse from connected vehicles enables big decisions to be made, accelerating the power of smart cities.

Paul Moorby is the Managing Director of Chipside. He has extensive experience in ICT and management for more than 30 years and frequently takes to the global stage at governmental trade missions to discuss the latest technological developments such as Smart Cities and IoT.

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